How to find Bangkok's best shopping

It's safe to say you're going to need a bigger suitcase. Splash your cash in Thailand's capital, where every shopping trip is an adventure, whether you hit luxury malls or traditional night-time markets. Here's what to buy and where to go for the best shopping in Bangkok.
Traders in boats at Amphawa floating market. Photo: Shutterstock
Traders in boats at Amphawa floating market. Photo: Shutterstock


Thailand's capital is a top shopping destination for both spendthrifts and penny-pinchers. If you know where to look, just about anything is available to buy – from handwoven silks and traditional Thai pottery under the awnings of an outdoor market, to gemstones and designer goods from a glitzy luxury mall. And with most shops, malls and markets open daily from morning until night, you can easily shop 'til you drop. What to buy, markets and malls, and bargaining tips – here is our guide to the best shopping in Bangkok.


Top tips for shopping in Bangkok:

Bargaining

You can get amazing discounts in Thailand with a little shrewd bargaining. 

1. Don’t bargain unless you really want to buy.
2. Ask how much something is, then say it is too much and ask if there is a discount.
3. The seller will ask how much you want to pay.
4. Don’t be afraid to offer what you might consider a ludicrously low price – around one-third of the original asking price is a good pointer towards what might actually be accepted. So start lower than that and from there, raise your offer in small increments.
5. Good tips include watching locals to see what price they get. And if you walk away you may be called back for a better price.
6. If not, you’ve at least established some ground rules for trying at another stall (many stock the same items). 


Shipping items home

If you’re buying large items of furniture, expensive antiques or dealing with department stores in Bangkok, the seller may be able to arrange shipping for you. Otherwise, major post offices have packing facilities and are a cheaper, if less secure, option than going with an international courier such as FedEx. 

Handmade jewellery is a must-buy when shopping in Bangkok.Handmade jewellery is a must-buy when shopping in Bangkok. Photo: thaikrit/Shutterstock


Where to shop in Bangkok:

Malls

The main shopping areas converge around Thanon Rama I and Thanon Ploenchit and are linked by a covered raised walkway, which means you can walk from mall to mall without ever touching terra firma.

Just a stone’s throw from Siam Square, a warren of market stalls and shops catering to a trendy teenage clientele, is the high-end Siam ­Discovery Centre, as well as Mah Boon Krong (MBK), a multistorey bargain-hunter’s heaven. Nearby is the gargantuan Siam Paragon mall, peppered with high-end boutiques, cafés, and even a Ferrari store. Further down the road is the even bigger CentralWorld mall. 

And there are plenty of upmarket shops scattered around Bangkok too, such as those at Gaysorn Plaza and Erawan Bangkok (both on Thanon Ploenchit near the Erawan Shrine). The latter has cool fashions from the likes of Stella McCartney and Alexander Wang.


Markets

Thailand’s most famous shopping experience is Chatuchak Weekend Market (Thanon Paholyothin, Bangkok; Sat–Sun), where some 250,000 shoppers swarm over nearly 10,000 stalls, making it the biggest flea market in the world. The market's labyrinthine alleys are filled with antiques, books, opium pipes, fabrics and fashion.

Suan Lum Night Bazaar (Thanon Rama IV; daily from 5pm) is a well-organised, less frenetic alternative. Also popular after dark is Patpong Night Market (Thanon Silom, Bangkok; daily from 6pm), located in the city’s notorious red-light district. Chinatown (around Thanon Yaowarat) is the place for gold and traditional items used in dragon parades, while for sumptuous silks from the subcontinent, head to Pahurat (Thanon Chakkraphet), otherwise known as Little India.

Painting intricate designs for gold leaf lacquerware.Painting intricate designs for gold leaf lacquerware.  Photo: Shutterstock


What to buy in Thailand:

Traditional products

Teakwood carvings come in the form of homeware items such as chopping boards and salad bowls, as well as more decorative statues of mythical gods, angels, and elephants. Bronze statues of classical drama figures, like the recumbent deer from the Ramakien (the Thai version of the Indian classic fable the Ramayana), make elegant decorations. Natural fibres woven into place mats, baskets and handbags also make great potential purchases.


Gemstones and jewellery

Thailand mines its own rubies and sapphires around the east-coast city of Chantaburi, and also sells stones from Myanmar and Cambodia. Rubies range from pale to deep red (in­cluding the famous 'pigeon’s blood' red); sapphires come in blue, green and yellow, as well as in the form most associated with Thailand – the star sapphire. Thai jewellers can fashion gold, white gold, silver and platinum into delicate jewellery designs, both traditional and modern.

Be careful when searching for gems and jewellery, especially when shopping in Bangkok. One of the most infamous scams in the city involves telling tourists that a famous landmark, such as the Grand Palace, is closed and suggesting an alternative sight, a detour that often leads to a bogus gem deal. Buy only from reputable shops endorsed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Thai Gem and Jewellery Traders Associ­ation


Lacquerware

Thai craftspeople excel at lacquerware, which is the art of overlaying wooden or bamboo items with glossy black ­lacquer, then adding artistic images painted in gold leaf. They are also supremely skilled at setting oyster shells in black lacquer backgrounds to create scenes of enchanting beauty.

Chinatown store in Bangkok. Chinatown store in Bangkok. Photo: Shutterstock


Ceramics

Thais have been crafting pottery with great finesse for thousands of years. While original antiques are rarities, most ceramics are still thrown along the same shapes and designs of their age-old counterparts. Among the best known are Sangkhalok ceramic plates from ancient Sukhothai, most notably with distinctive twin-fish design.

Celadon is a beautiful stoneware with a light jade-green or dark-brown glaze, and is used to make dinnerware, lamps and statuary.

Benjarong originated in China and was later developed by Thai artists. Its name describes its look: benja is Sanskrit for 'five,' and rong means 'colour.' The five colours of Benjarong – red, blue, yellow, green and white – appear on delicate porcelain bowls, receptacles and decorative items.

Popular blue-and-white porcelain, which also originated in China, has been produced extensively in Thailand for centuries.


Antiques

Thai and Burmese antiques are among the finest in Asia, but the real thing is rare nowadays. For the tenacious and well informed, though, treasures can still be unearthed when shopping in Bangkok. The centre of the city’s antique trade is River City, where an array of shops offer genuine antiques and lookalike objets d’art. 

Note that the authorities maintain strict control over the export of religious antiques; dealers are usually able to clear buyers’ purchases by obtaining export permits and shipping them abroad.


Are you ready to take your shopping trip to Bangkok?

Our local experts can help you to plan, organise and book fantastic trips to Bangkok. Simply contact us with details of your ideas for the trip and when you would like to visit. We will then will plan a tailor-made itinerary based on your personal preferences which you can amend until you're happy with every detail before booking. Seek inspiration in our existing Bangkok itineraries, and keep in mind that all our planned itineraries can be fully personalised to suit your specific needs.


Updated 4 January, 2019